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3 Nisan, 5784 - April 11, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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"Chumros, Chumros...": A Look At Some Of Our Pesach Chumros And Their Sources — Or Lack Of Them

By Rabbi Zeev Steiner


Part II

For Part I of this series click here.

Last week we spoke about the generally stringent approach to Pesach. This week we follow with some famous examples.

Potatoes: Giving Thanks For Their Late Discovery

The potato is even more of a dietary staple at Pesach than it is during the rest of the year. Many people use it for carpas but... yes, there were some opinions that forbade it entirely!

While the Teshuvos Yad Aharon (siman 16,) acknowledges that "the straightforward custom is to eat potatoes—they are the main food item for most people on Pesach," it is clear from the Pri Megadim that this was not universal. He writes, "`Erd-appfel' is permitted, except in places where the custom is to forbid it."

The reason for this is apparent from Nishmas Adam, who writes that in 5531 (1771), when there was a severe famine in Ashkenaz, the kehilla of Fiord, "convened a beis din that permitted [eating] bulbes, known as erd-appfel, for in Ashkenaz, bulbes are not eaten, for over there flour is made from them."

The Yad Aharon comments that if this was the reason, our custom of permitting potatoes is understandable, "for it is not our practice to make them into flour throughout the year." The other reasons for the original prohibition against eating kitniyos cannot possibly be applied to potatoes.

An interesting view of this subject is quoted from the Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk (in the sefer, Ohel Shlomo.) "We must give thanks for the fact that the potato was unavailable in the time of the geonim (it was brought from America after their times). Had they had this food, they would have forbidden it on Pesach as part of the decree against kitniyos, because it can be made into flour."

Coffee: Kitniyos?

There were also some who refrained from drinking coffee. This practice was really one chumra coming on top of another.

Here is how the Sha'arei Teshuva (siman 453,) explains it: "A certain godol was stringent even about drinking coffee—despite the fact that it is definitely a tree fruit. Apparently he wanted to be stringent because most people who do not know what it (coffee) is and imagine it to be a type of kitniyos, will come to permit everything, breaking down the fence erected by the Rishonim."

The Sha'arei Teshuva adds that if the coffee was roasted before Pesach, it is permitted even in those places where the custom is to refrain from it. The Chok Yosef disagrees with this lenient exception but writes that in his region, the custom was to permit coffee completely.

As we mentioned before, the Yismach Moshe kept any chumra he came across, including this one. Tehilla LeMoshe writes, "He didn't drink coffee on Pesach because it says in the Chok Yosef that it is kitniyos. Although he laughed at this, he himself was stringent even in this regard."


"Gebrochts": Perhaps The Most Famous Chumra Of All

The most widespread chumra, which is also the subject of an extensive halachic debate is, without a doubt, the question of soaked matzo.

The Sha'arei Teshuva (siman 460) writes that "there are worthy people who are strict with themselves and do not eat any matzo that has been soaked or cooked in water, for fear that it may contain some unkneaded flour, which will now become chometz through the soaking or cooking." He adds that even those who observe this chumra may dip matzo into water, fruit juices or other liquids if it is to be eaten immediately, "for obviously there is not enough time for it to become chometz."

The Sha'arei Teshuva goes on to distinguish between soaking whole and ground matzos. He maintains that in the latter case the reason for this chumra is much weaker. "Since [the matzo] is finely ground, [even] if there was a little flour in one of the matzos, the grinding has made it extremely fine, like dust and it is completely mixed in [with the meal] so there certainly won't be one particle of flour in one place that could be considered to have become chometz [upon soaking]."

The Shulchan Oruch HaRav, written by HaRav Shneur Zalman, author of the Tanya, sides with the stricter opinion. In the previously quoted teshuva at the end of the sefer he writes, "Even if the prohibition is not completely clear and unequivocal, one who is strict is worthy of blessings and cannot be considered as acting strangely, adopting baseless stringencies when in fact there is ample reason for this practice, namely, avoiding the slightest suspicion of [transgressing] a Torah prohibition." He adds that according to the Arizal's admonition to observe all the various chumros on Pesach, "it is obvious that one should be strict."


A New Chumra?

One of the main questions that have had to be addressed by those who rule strictly on this issue is why no discussion of the problem is found in the writings of the Rishonim and the earlier authorities. The Shulchan Oruch HaRav puts forward a response to this.

"The reason why the poskim have not mentioned this is that the problem is only found in hard doughs which have not been kneaded thoroughly. The earlier generations used to spend a long time kneading and rolling so that it was well mixed. Only in the last twenty or so years has it become widespread amongst the holy members of Klal Yisroel to knead extremely quickly, without the same thoroughness. That is why there is a little flour in matzos made from hard dough, as anyone who is truly careful can see for themselves."

The Sha'arei Teshuva on the other hand, is of the opinion that the chumra did apply in earlier times.

"There are many fine people who do eat soaked and cooked matzo. The origin of this chumra seems to be the old practice of making very thick matzos for Pesach. Even though they were not a tefach thick, they were still very thick indeed. The matzo meal for Pesach was prepared by scraping these matzos. It was very likely that there were some matzos that were not baked well enough in the middle, and also, that those who worked at laying out the matzos were not quick enough to complete their work with the result that a number of matzos would be left lying on the table before going into the oven, as is known...

"Today however, there has been an improvement. We don't bake thick matzos at all, only wafer-thin ones and the flour is prepared by drying [the grain] in an oven and then grinding or pounding it, so that these grounds for suspicion are not at all applicable—unless we want to fear that some dough was left [unmixed] during the kneading but they did not suspect this of happening for the reason that I have written (i.e. we do not presume the introduction of a prohibiting factor without at least some grounds for doing so)."

Despite the fact that the issue of soaked matzo has only been debated by relatively recent poskim, it does have a source in the rishonim. The Ra'avan (on Pesochim) writes, "Baked matzo that has been cooked, like the food shalkuk and the children's food farfel, cannot become chometz and is permitted. Some do not want to soak the matzo in soup on the first night because they saw their parents [refrain from] doing so and they think that the reason was so that it should not become chometz. However, it was not so—they only had this custom in order that the taste of the matzo should remain in their mouths for the whole of the first night. Nonetheless, it is not advisable to make farfel so that people should not come to prepare it from [raw] flour; it is good to forbid it for this reason."

The Even Shlomo, (by HaRav Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreinin of Samiloi) in his glosses on the Ra'avan, notes the proposals of the Sha'arei Teshuva and other poskim who discussed this question and comments that "none of them saw the words of the Ra'avan."

HaRav Yosef Engel, in Gilyonei HaShas adduces support for the chumra from a source that has been available to every posek who has discussed the question: the gemora in Pesochim (daf 40:), which relates that Rav Pappi allowed the servants who worked in the Exilarch's house to cook a food called chasisi, which the rishonim explain was made from baked, then broken matzos, cooked in water. The gemoro's first version of Rava's opinion is that he wondered how Rav Pappi had permitted this dish to be prepared by servants for, as Rashi explains, "servants do not take prohibited matters seriously at all."

"Here is support for the stringency of those who avoid soaked matzo," argues HaRav Engel. "In our sins, in these generations, we don't know whether we are any better than the deficient servants in their times."

He goes on to note that it seems from the gemora that even in those times, the amoroim used to be stringent and abstain from this food.

For those who adhere to this chumra, the question arises as to whether it assumes the nature of a proper prohibition or not. This is discussed by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim, siman 49) in relation to eating soaked matzo when the day after Shevi'i Shel Pesach is a Shabbos. If it is properly forbidden then even though it is no longer Pesach, the soaked matzo may not be eaten on that Shabbos because it became muktzah when Shabbos started. If however, it is regarded as something essentially permitted, even for those whose custom is to refrain from it, then there is no problem of muktzah.


Part Three: What About Simchas Yom Tov?

How The Gedolim Acted

The last part of our discussion of "gebrochts" introduces another factor into our consideration of Pesach stringencies, namely, whether or not there is reason to refrain from them on the grounds that they mar the joy which the Torah obliges us to experience on the Yomim Tovim.

First we take a look at the practice of the acharonim concerning soaked matzo. According to the reports of their pupils, both the Vilna Gaon and the Chasam Sofer used to eat it. The Chofetz Chaim, on the other hand, did not. When asked how it was that the Vilna Gaon had eaten soaked matzo while he did not, the Chofetz Chaim replied, "Give me the Gaon's matzos and I'll eat it too!"

The Chofetz Chaim however, did instruct the members of his household to eat soaked matzo so as not to spoil their enjoyment of the Yom Tov.

As we mentioned earlier, the Ba'al HaTanya concluded that soaked matzo is forbidden and this has since been the practice of all Admorim and chassidim. The Ohel Shlomo, a grandson of the Tiferes Yisroel of Radomsk, notes that once, his grandfather pointed at the shelves of seforim in his bookcase and said, "You should know that the authors of all these seforim used to eat gebrochts!"

Rav Yaakov Emden (in Mor Uketzia #460) completely rejects the stringent opinion about soaked matzo. He writes, "It is certainly permitted and even though there are those who are stringent, nobody harbors serious suspicions on this count; we have seen some of the world's most righteous people eat it."

In Sheilas Ya'avetz (cheilek 2, siman 65) Rav Yaakov Emden stresses that in the absence of a compelling reason to be stringent, there is a very good reason to be lenient, so as not to detract from the joy of the Yom Tov; a far fetched suspicion is not a reason to lessen one's enjoyment of the festival.

He goes on to relate how his father, the Chacham Tzvi when asked about soaked matzo, "from which pious individuals refrain... refuted all the arguments of those who rule strictly... the truth is that the mind cannot endure all the chumros which are being newly expounded every day."

The Ya'avetz even writes that his father wanted to abolish the Ashkenazic custom of prohibiting kitniyos because he felt that it although it had been instituted out of stringency, it led to greater leniency...

"He Was Vexed Throughout Pesach"

On the subject of kitniyos, Rav Yaakov Emden writes in Mor Uketzia, that from Baer Heiteiv it seems that, "our fathers the Ashkenazim did not accept it in his days and it never spread amongst them. A number of poskim consider it nonsense and a mistaken custom, [to be released from which] neither regret nor permission are required (as is the case with a worthy practice one has accepted).

"I can testify about the great suffering of my father z'l, the great tzaddik, over this matter. He would be vexed throughout Pesach and say that if he had the power, he would abolish that terrible minhag—a stringency which leads to leniency—that results in great damage and stumbling into (instead of the original intention of keeping far away from) the prohibition of actual chometz.

"[In those days] Due to unavailability [on Pesach] of the various kinds of kitniyos, with which the multitude could otherwise satisfy their hunger, large amounts of matzo have to be baked instead. The poor and those with large families especially, are unable to assuage their hunger with different kinds of cooked dishes and they have no choice but to provide enough matzo for their households and their youngsters. Thus, they are not as careful with the dough as they should be and treat it like an obligation which they have to perform, making it very large and taking a long time over its preparation—it is very likely that they stumble into a prohibition that carries the koreis penalty R'l.

"Matzos are also very expensive and not everyone can afford to make enough for his family— such people cannot even obtain enough bread to satisfy their hunger throughout the year, when kitniyos are easily and cheaply available and are permitted. So it is that because of a chumra that has no rhyme or reason, these people are held back from enjoying the Yom Tov. Happy is he whose path is followed by the tzaddik, providing plenty of food and smashing the hordes of strange chumros on the rocks."

After discussing the possibility of abolishing the minhag, the Ya'avetz concludes, "I therefore say with assurance that I would wish for my lot to be the same as that of whoever annuls this minhag of not eating kitniyos (and any other such bad minhagim)—would that the gedolei hador in this region agree with me. I am quite ready to be an accessory to this mitzvah. Throughout my life I have been waiting for the opportunity to make my father's views publicly known—that a whole string of chumros like these, which most of the community are unable to bear, should be cancelled; fulfilling the idea of the posuk, `to issue the decree and to carry it out,' to enshrine it in print and establish it so that it will be carried out in practice, to give it permanence and fix it as halacha for future generations in order to merit the masses and remove a stumbling block from our people's path—certainly this would be reckoned as a great mitzvah."

Conclusion: Both Are The Words Of The Living G-d

As we know, Reb Yaakov Emden's views were not accepted and the prohibition against eating kitniyos has been preserved in its full severity amongst Ashkenazim. The Sha'arei Teshuva, siman 453, quoting Likutei Mahari"l says, "Those who eat [kitniyos] on Pesach transgress `You shall not veer from what they tell you...' and whoever transgresses the words of the chachamim deserves a heavenly death sentence... In a certain place, there arose several chachamim who wanted to make a breach in this matter but they were unsuccessful because the wise men of the generation, the gedolim of Ashkenaz, hurriedly opposed them, filling the breach and upholding the words of the chachamim, making the prohibition final in those countries."

There is nevertheless a point in bringing Reb Yaakov Emden's views in order to gain a correct picture of the viewpoint of those who wished to rule leniently. It was not that they wished to be indiscriminately lenient or remove protective fences around the prohibition on chometz, chas vesholom. Their intentions were pure and their sole object was to remove a source of interference with others halachos (such as simchas Yom Tov).

To end, we quote once again from the Sha'arei Teshuva, in his discussion of "gebrochts": "The intentions of both those who ruled strictly and those who ruled leniently were for the sake of Heaven. Those on the one hand, wanted to keep away from even the very slightest shade of a trace of chometz, with the greatest possible stringency, while on the other hand, the others were concerned about preventing enjoyment of the festival, as they found dry matzo unpleasant, especially for those who have difficulty in chewing. Similarly, there are those who refrain altogether from eating matzo throughout Pesach, except for the first night—they eat only cooked dishes—and many others do not have this practice so that they can enjoy the Yom Tov, since only matzo satisfies the appetite properly...

To both groups, whose sole intentions are to serve Hashem, I apply the posuk, "Your people are all tzadikim."


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